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LeBron Is the King (of Squats)

A trip through NBA weight-lifting Instagram

(Kristaps Porzingis/LeBron James/Ringer illustration)
(Kristaps Porzingis/LeBron James/Ringer illustration)

The brief stretch between the end of the NBA Finals and the night of the NBA draft is my favorite part of the basketball calendar. Not because I enjoy watching Kings fans talk themselves into trading up for a point guard who can’t shoot or because I love to discuss the viability of the triangle offense in 2017.

No, I love this time of year because it’s officially #NoDaysOff season: Who’s working out so hard that they have to stop and take a selfie to show everyone how hard they’re working out?

Thursday, just three days after Game 5 of the Finals, LeBron James submitted his #NoDaysOff entry — and it provides more questions than answers:

At first glance, that appears to be a Smith machine, the American Gym Industrial Complex’s sad excuse for a squat rack. Briefly: Squats are perfect because they engage your core and force various muscle groups to lock your body into balance before you move up and down. The Smith machine, as the good folks at Bodybuilding.com write, "locks [your body] into a very unnatural movement pattern which has the potential to stress inappropriate structures and not train the body in various planes." In other words, the Smith machine lets you feel like you’re squatting without providing any of the benefits of actually doing a squat. (Every day is leg day.)

LeBron might be the best athlete on the planet, and the presence of a Smith machine in his home gym would be confounding, if not outright concerning. Constant reps on what is essentially a medieval torture device for your hips and knees would threaten LeBron’s legendary durability.

Thankfully, upon further inspection, the machine appears to be just a strange-looking squat rack. I spoke to Sam Reiss, proprietor of the above tweet and Snake America, the world’s leading eBay-consignment-cum-Bulgarian-weight-lifting-history newsletter, and here’s what he said via Gchat: "At first blush this looks like a Smith Machine — but it’s probably a commercial gym squat rack. The question now is not Why is lebron lifting in the Smith Machine? — but whether he squats without a shirt."

If LeBron squats without a shirt, he has my eternal respect. If you’re willing to rest a metal bar on your bare shoulders, you can show as much skin as you want. The logical next question, though, might be even more interesting: Is LeBron doing front squats or back squats? Now, that may be a laughable line of questioning to the kind of squat absolutist with "Back-squat or GTFO" tattooed across their shoulder blades. (They squat shirtless, too.) But LeBron’s proclivity for semi-unorthodox workouts suggests that he may actually favor the less-weight-but-more-balance benefits of the unfairly maligned front squat. Don’t you dare try to tell me that a guy who does Pilates is a lower-body traditionalist:

And while we’re on the topic of offseason squats, what the hell is going on with Kristaps Porzingis?

This is at least the second time this year he’s appeared on social media while still, presumably, learning how to squat. I appreciate that the young man is working on nailing down his form before tossing any weight on the bar, but it’s worrying that — two years into his NBA career — he’s not squatting with any weight.

Of course, every squat is a long trip when you’re 7-foot-3, or even 6-foot-8. But LeBron’s lasted this long at the apex of the league, in part because he’s not using a Smith machine. We all want Kristaps to play forever, too. The sooner he can put two 45s on a bar, drop it across his shoulders, sit down, and stand up, the better. Until then, #NoDaysOff.